Agree to disagree: Pitt football overreactions

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Agree to disagree: Pitt football overreactions

Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple joined the team this season.

Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple joined the team this season.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple joined the team this season.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple joined the team this season.

By Sam Krimins and Sean Tierney, For the Pitt News

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With Pitt football losing its season-opener came the age-old tradition of fans casting their doubts and aspersions on the program. Two of our writers picked out some of the more drastic Pitt football opinions — both good and bad — and deliberated over which takes are reasonable (hint: not many) and which are simply outrageous.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi will be on the hot seat if he can’t crack .500 again this season.

Sam Krimins: Agree. Narduzzi has gone 12-14 over the past two seasons, losing to Stanford in the Sun Bowl in 2018. His first two seasons were respectable — Pitt went 8-5 in both years, but also lost both bowl games. This season must be a success or else a new coach could likely be hired. If not, Pitt will be stuck with college football’s Marvin Lewis.

Sean Tierney: Disagree. Narduzzi’s performance to date doesn’t warrant such a quick trigger on the “hot seat” tag. At this point in his tenure, a below .500 season would certainly be a disappointment, but starting over new seems like a much riskier path to go down. In his four seasons at Pitt, Narduzzi has four blemishes to speak of — a 5-7 record in 2017 and three bowl game losses. Excluding these, he has amassed a 23-18 record, two second-place ACC Coastal finishes and one ACC Championship berth. In my eyes, the good outweighs the bad, and a below-.500 season doesn’t do enough to change the balance dramatically.

Not only do I not think that Narduzzi deserves the hot seat, but I don’t think that there’s any chance that Pitt’s athletic administration would actually put him there right now. After Narduzzi’s worst season at Pitt in 2017, his contract was extended seven years, showing the faith that the University has in his leadership. 

Lastly, something to plant a seed of optimism: The last time Pitt football had the same head coach for more than three seasons was under Dave Wannstedt from 2005 to 2010. In his first four seasons, Wannstedt amassed a concerning 25-23 record. In his next two years, the Panthers went 17-8 with a 5-2 conference record both seasons. Good head coaches need time to build a program, and I believe that Narduzzi is a good head coach. A below-.500 season with a competitive schedule does not mean that we have to throw everything out and start over with someone new.

Narduzzi needs to start seriously considering other options at quarterback.

SK: Disagree. Junior quarterback Kenny Pickett showed numerous flashes during the game, especially in the running game. Notably, the wide receiver and offensive line play around Pickett was poor. Getting senior wideout Maurice Ffrench touches is a must to help Pickett.

ST: Disagree. Again, I don’t think we need to be so quick to demand people get their jobs taken away. Pickett has shown that he has the potential to lead a football team. Maybe I’m living in an idealized past, but we can’t just forget that in his first start for Pitt he led the Panthers to a 24-14 upset over No. 2 Miami. The guy’s ceiling is high. Despite flashes of brilliance like this, I admit that he’s had a chronic issue of underperforming.

We saw some of this in Saturday night’s game against Virginia — drives where Pickett had the Panthers moving down the field with speed and efficiency, along with plenty of quick three-and-outs with missed throws. Despite this, something felt different from last year. When offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s system was clicking, it was really clicking, and it looked like the perfect complement to Pickett’s skill set. This being the case, I think that Pickett deserves the opportunity to grow more comfortable with Whipple and show what the two can do together.

Whipple’s system is too pass-heavy and won’t work as well as Pitt’s ground-and-pound 2018 offense.

SK: Disagree. The Panthers’ air raid offense looked efficient multiple times during the Virginia game. If Whipple can get the offense to execute his game plan, then Pitt could have a high-powered offense. The Panthers’ defense also looked very good in the home opener, which should help the offense.

ST: Disagree. I think that Whipple’s system is exactly what Pitt’s offense needs. From what I saw against Virginia, Pitt will look to keep the tempo up and air the ball out, with plenty of opportunities for Pickett to use his legs to make something out of nothing. When this formula was working, I saw a Pitt offense with an identity. Pickett looked comfortable passing and running, and he led the Panthers down the field with confidence.

Not only do I think that this style complements Pickett, I also think that it will showcase Pitt’s talented cast of athletic receivers — senior Maurice Ffrench, redshirt junior Taysir Mack and redshirt senior Tre Tipton. This being said, there were certainly kinks to be worked out after Saturday’s loss, but I’d argue that they had little to do with the system. Dropped balls, missed throws and lapses in pass protection — these are first-game jitters, not systemic flaws.

Also, what exactly is to be missed about the ground-and-pound offense of 2018? An underwhelming 25.6 points per game, a concerning 141.8 passing yards per game or maybe the below-average 369.7 total yards per game? Change wouldn’t be so bad, and I’m ready to see what Whipple can bring to the table.

The Panthers will finish as a top-three team in the ACC Coastal.

SK: Disagree. The Panthers just don’t have the talent to compete with teams like Virginia and Miami. Virginia looked nowhere near as good as expected against Pitt and still won handily, 30-14. The Panthers’ schedule also includes Penn State, Syracuse, UCF, Virginia Tech and Miami, which are all very difficult games.

ST: Disagree. Miami. Virginia Tech. Virginia. That’s why Pitt won’t be a top-three team in the ACC Coastal. Pitt’s reign as ACC Coastal champions will be short-lived because they simply lack the talent to match up with these conference competitors. Miami will be back with a vengeance to reclaim its top spot after a disappointing 2018, while Virginia looks to follow the lead of dynamic senior quarterback Bryce Perkins. The Cavaliers already showed what they’re capable of in Week 1 against Pitt. Lastly, Virginia Tech is looking to redeem itself from a disappointing 2018 effort. The Hokies have serious offensive weapons in WR duo Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner, as well as an experienced senior quarterback in Ryan Willis. They are poised for major improvement.

Pitt just doesn’t seem to have the firepower to match up with these three teams. Additionally, a tough out-of-conference schedule could be detrimental to Pitt’s play within conference.

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